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Bikini photos and sexy dance videos might soon be a thing of the past if Tanzania's government has its way. A number of artists have now been banned from posting their content.
Video vixens. That's the buzz word that has sparked social media discussions throughout Tanzania. It's also the term with which some female celebrities describe themselves on the Instagram, YouTube or Twitter handles. They pose in bikinis, lacy lingerie, dresses that reveal or accentuate their bodies and they dance or "grind" with male dancers in music videos. But now they've been banned.
It's immoral, un-Tanzanian and definitely not for the eyes of children, some people argue. On the other hand, others say, the vixens have a huge online following and just because the more conservative elements in Tanzanian society demand it, the government should have no right to shut them down.
The artists, known by names such as Gigy Money, Pretty Kind and Amber Lulu, among others, were called in by the Information, Culture and Arts Ministry. Tanzania's entertainment media and bloggers who covered the event later showed videos, in which some of the artists apologized while others decried the government for restricting their online freedoms. Some of them have now been banned from posting online content for several months.
These artists and celebrities have a large following and make money from that, says Julieth Kulangwa, an assistant editor at Tanzania's Mwananchi newspaper. She argues that it's high time that the government crack down on the celebrities. "These artists that have been going nude didn't start yesterday, but when the government is not doing anything, society starts to copy. It becomes a trend," she says.
According to Kulangwa, the videos and pictures simply aren't accepted in Tanzanian culture. "It's our law, it's our custom, we have to obey," she says.
Kulangwa thinks the government should go even further and censor content showing international celebrities on Tanzanian TV and online channels. "You ban our local artists, but Rihanna and the like are there," she says. What especially concerns her is the nudity, which already includes women in underwear or bikinis, being shown on TV before 11 p.m., when children could still be watching.
That said, social media companies like Instagram, Facebook and YouTube all have anti-nudity policies, which forbid the posting of pictures and videos showing female breasts, particularly nipples, naked buttocks, sexual organs and sexual acts. In practice, however, such content still appears online.
Where does censorship end?
"The problem with this ban is where the privacy of someone who decides to post photos on the beach or from her or his bedroom ends, and when do you become a so-called public figure," asks online activist, communications expert and director of Miss Universe Tanzania Maria Sarungi Tsehai: She believes that the matter goes beyond the recent ban of the artists. She, however, also knows that the question of morality always comes into play in such matters.
At Miss Universe Tanzania, Tsehai and her team decided not to run the bikini round of the selection process, because Tsehai says Tanzanian society would not understand it properly. Some men would see it as an invitation to make advances to the models and many people would be outraged, also because people believe that beauty pageants in general do not help women's causes. Once the winners go abroad, they do have to take part in the bikini competition, which Tsehai admits is difficult for some parents to accept.
"It also depends on generation. Today if you tell urban Tanzanians that if you wear shorts you are immoral, they probably won't understand you because they're consuming Western media and they're used to that," says Tsehai. "You'll find that artists are dressed in a certain way that reflects the trend globally."
Tsehai believes, however, that the government is now taking things too far. Some of the accounts that have been banned are actually private and restricted, she points out. "If you follow a celebrity account you know what you're going to see."
The censorship of the online celebrities is just one example of the Tanzanian government's efforts to crack down on social media and traditional media content. Just this week, a local newspaper, Nipashe, decided to suspend weekend publication for three months after publishing material that apparently did not go down well with President John Magafuli. The editor of a popular discussion platform, Jamii Forums, was detained and tried for publishing content related to corruption in Tanzania.
The cybercrime law was signed into being under Tanzania's previous government. The current government, however, was the first to implement it. "This has led to a lot of citizens being detained under the cybercrime law," says Tsehai. Many of them. she says, don't know their rights. "The problem has been that some of the citizens have been detained for more than 48 hours, they don't know their rights. They're scared, their family is scared."
According to her, the government censorship should be dealt with by informing people about their rights and advocating for reforms within the current legal framework.